Global Health

This summer, it's not just athletes who are looking to set world records. Scientists are also trying to break a record — for how quickly they can make a vaccine for a new virus.

It's for Zika. And one team is leading the pack.

How FluMist Slipped From Preferred To Passe

Jun 27, 2016

What led to the abrupt fall of FluMist — the nasal spray version of influenza vaccine — which until recently was considered the first choice for younger children?

On Wednesday, an advisory panel to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded that the spray version was so ineffective, it shouldn't be used by anyone during the 2016-2017 flu season.

Just as the U.S. is battling diet-related diseases, obesity and climate change, so, too, is China.

And among the proposed strategies to combat these problems is this: Eat less meat.

Bad News For Kids Who Don't Like Flu Shots

Jun 23, 2016

It's time to brace the kids who don't like getting their flu shots for some disappointing news.

A panel of vaccination experts advising the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made the surprising recommendation late Wednesday that FluMist Quadrivalent, the nasal spray vaccine that protects against influenza, should no longer be used.

The Challenge Of Taking Health Apps Beyond The Well-Heeled

Jun 23, 2016

When you hear the phrase "digital health," you might think about a Fitbit, the healthy eating app on your smartphone, or maybe a new way to email the doctor.

But Fitbits aren't particularly useful if you're homeless, and the nutrition app won't mean much to someone who struggles to pay for groceries. Same for emailing your doctor if you don't have a doctor or reliable Internet access.

Using A Smartphone In Bed Made Women Momentarily Blind

Jun 22, 2016

A 22-year-old woman in England thought she was going blind in one eye. She could always see fine out of her left eye. But on some nights, the right eye failed her. All she could see out of it were vague shapes in the room.

At first, it happened about two or three times a week. Then it started happening every night.

When she went to the doctor, her vision appeared normal. So did brain scans. But it was a disturbing trend.

Bright, energy-efficient LED streetlamps can be bad for our health, according to the American Medical Association.

Specifically, high-intensity LEDs that release mostly blue light — as opposed to the "warmer-looking" light of older streetlamps — create glare and mess with sleep cycles, the organization says.

By now we know that Zika is dangerous for pregnant women and their future babies. The virus can cause devastating birth defects.

But what about for infections after babies are born? Or in older children? Is Zika a danger for them?

So far, all the evidence suggests probably not. But there are a few caveats.

Let's start with what we know.

We had kids later in life, knowing little about children and with no parents to guide us. I depended upon Sofiya, our stern Russian day care provider, for child-rearing advice. She reminded me of my Lithuanian grandmother who took care of me as a child.

When the children caught colds, my husband took their temperature and carefully measured out a draught of flavored Tylenol. Then the children would demand Sofiya's special treatment — Vicks VapoRub on the soles of their feet.

Three months ago I had a heart attack. And since the symptoms of a heart attack are different for women, and since the kind I had can strike young people with no markers of heart disease, I've decided to tell my story. And because I love to name drop, I'll do some of that along the way because I was with authors I love that night.

At first Giselle wasn't sure what to put on her medical school application. She wanted to be a doctor, but she also wanted people to know about her own health: years of depression, anxiety and a suicide attempt. (We're using only her first name in this story, out of concern for her future career.)

"A lot of people were like, you don't say that at all," she said. "Do not mention that you have any kind of weakness."

The last time, we heard about a "mysterious hemorrhagic fever" in a country, it was February 2014. The outbreak was in Guinea. And by the time doctors had pinpointed the culprit, Ebola was spiraling out of control in West Africa.

The situation in South Sudan today is a far cry from that in West Africa a few years ago. But it's still concerning, the World Health Organization said.

Concussions have become part of the daily news. But how much have these brain injuries become part of daily life?

To find out, we asked people across the country about concussions in the latest NPR-Truven Health Analytics Health Poll.

The poll, conducted during the first half of March, found that nearly a quarter of people — 23 percent of those surveyed — said they had suffered a concussion at some point in their lives. Among those who said they'd had a concussion, more than three-quarters had sought medical treatment.

Tracy Solomon Clark is outgoing and energetic — a former fundraiser for big companies and big causes. As she charged through her 40s she had "no clue," she says, that there might be a problem with her heart.

It was about six years ago — when she was 44 — that she first suffered severe shortness of breath, along with dizziness. She figured she was overweight and overworked, but never considered heart disease.

"That was the furthest thing from my mind," Solomon Clark says. "I was young!"

All sorts of health information is now a few taps away on your smartphone, from how many steps you take — to how well you sleep at night. But what if you could use your phone and a computer to test your vision? A company is doing just that — and eye care professionals are upset. Some states have even banned it.

In his recent book, The Finest Traditions of My Calling, Dr. Abraham Nussbaum, 41, makes the case that doctors and patients alike are being shortchanged by current medical practices that emphasize population-based standards of care rather than individual patient needs and experiences.

Nussbaum, a psychiatrist, is the chief education officer at Denver Health Medical Center and works on the adult inpatient psychiatric unit there. I recently spoke with him, and this is an edited transcript of our conversation.

Mosquito control is serious business in Harris County, Texas.

The county, which includes Houston, stretches across 1,777 square miles and is the third most populous county in the U.S. The area's warm, muggy climate and snaking system of bayous provide an ideal habitat for mosquitoes — and the diseases they carry.

The county began battling mosquitoes in earnest in 1965, after an outbreak of St. Louis encephalitis. Hundreds of people contracted the virus and 32 died.

The head of the World Health Organization, Margaret Chan, came out swinging at the opening ceremony of the 69th World Health Assembly in Geneva on Monday. The meeting of health officials from nearly 200 countries is usually a low-key, bureaucratic affair. Chan, however, opened the assembly by basically saying that the world is facing unprecedented global health challenges right now and is ill-equipped to deal with future threats.

"For infectious diseases, you cannot trust the past when planning for the future," she warned.

Since it came onto the scene in 1943, penicillin has made syphilis a thing of the past — almost. Now, the sexually transmitted disease is making a comeback in the U.S. and there's a shortage of the medication used to treat it.

Pfizer, the company that supplies it, says it's experiencing "an unanticipated manufacturing delay," and in a letter to consumers wrote that it would be providing just one-third of the usual monthly demand until July.

Six years of your life. Or 2,190 days. That's about how long the average woman will spend having her periods.

For some women, that's too many days, too many periods.

More women in their 20s and 30s are choosing contraception that may suppress their menstrual cycles, says Dr. Elizabeth Micks, who runs an OB-GYN clinic at the University of Washington in Seattle. "In general, I think views are changing really rapidly," Micks says. "That need to have regular periods is not just in our society anymore."

Mosquito season is just getting underway. And many parts of the country have mosquitoes that could potentially transmit Zika.

Health officials expect to see cases here in the next few weeks. So we decided to figure out who needs to break out the bug spray and what other precautions they should take.

By now, you've probably heard that pregnant women — and those trying to get pregnant — face the biggest danger when it comes to Zika. The virus can cause devastating brain damage in fetuses at any point during a pregnancy.

More Low-Income Kids Now Have Health Coverage

May 13, 2016

Bolstered by the federal health care law, the number of lower-income kids getting health coverage continues to rise.

Amir Attaran, a professor in the School of Public Health and the School of Law at the University of Ottawa, isn't afraid to take a bold stand.

He has written a commentary for the Harvard Public Health Review, published this week, with the headline, "Why Public Health Concerns for Global Spread of Zika Virus Means that Rio de Janeiro's 2016 Olympic Games Must Not Proceed."

A body mass index under 25 is deemed normal and healthy, and a higher BMI that's "overweight" or "obese" is not. But that might be changing, at least when it comes to risk of death.

The body mass index, or BMI, associated with the lowest risk of death has increased since the 1970s, a study finds, from 23.7, in the "normal" weight category, to 27, which is deemed "overweight."

Kimberly Richardson has never gotten a flu shot. Since she's healthy and considers the seasonal vaccines a "best-guess concoction" of the viruses expected to dominate, the northern California gym teacher and mother of two says she didn't want an "injection of something that may or may not keep me healthy in the long run."

How A Cancer Drug Has Saved People From Going Blind

May 6, 2016

Ten years may not seem like a long time, but in my field, ophthalmology, it has made the difference between going blind and still being able to drive.

Editor's note: This story was updated on June 2, 2016, to reflect Prince's autopsy results.

Prince died of a drug overdose, the medical examiner in Ramsey, Minn., reports. The iconoclast musician, 57, self-administered a deadly dose of the opiate fentanyl by accident. Opioid overdose in his age group is all too common.

Felipe Dana / AP Photo

The first case of the Zika virus has been reported in King County. It's the third case of Zika in Washington state. Officials are not concerned about an outbreak in the Pacific Northwest, but more cases are expected.

The King County case involved a man in his forties who recently traveled to the country of Colombia. That's one of the countries where Zika is actively spreading, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the past 12 years, the U.S. has spent more than $1.4 billion funding abstinence programs in Africa. They're part of a larger program — called the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief — aimed at stopping the spread of HIV around the world.

Many health officials consider PEPFAR a success. It is credited with giving lifesaving HIV drugs to more than 5 million people and preventing nearly 1 million babies from getting HIV from their mothers.

Some people addicted to oxycodone and other opioids are now turning to widely available diarrhea medications to manage their withdrawal symptoms or get high.

The results can be dangerous to the heart — and sometimes fatal — warn toxicologists in a study recently published online in the Annals of Emergency Medicine.

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